But every business is bearing the burden of uninsured Americans and can help ease the problem by taking some simple, practical steps.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were about 45 million uninsured Americans in 2003, a number that continues to grow. Uninsured individuals commonly forego necessary medical care; nearly 40 percent postpone care due to the cost, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. In addition, according to The Institute of Medicine, uninsured people receive fewer preventive services and less care for chronic conditions than their insured counterparts.
As a result, the uninsured tend to get sick more often and for longer periods, adding significantly to the spiraling medical costs that show up in every business's annual health care costs.
Hard working and uninsured
Businesses have an even deeper connection to the uninsured problem -- most of the uninsured are, in fact, employed. Six out of 10 have full-time jobs and another 15 percent work part time or part of the year. Some work two part-time jobs without coverage through either employer.
Those without health insurance are working in virtually every American business, uninsured because they are ineligible for benefits or because the cost of premiums or deductibles is too high.
As a result, the working uninsured are prone to missing preventive care and suffering more serious conditions later, resulting in a threefold problem for businesses:
* Short-term presenteeism (being at work but preoccupied with personal matters to the detriment of productivity) as workers struggle through personal and family health issues without seeking appropriate care.
* Longer-term productivity losses as workers leave your employ to seek jobs that provide benefits, wind up in emergency rooms or are lost to disability
* Continuing increases in health plan costs as local care providers pass on the nonreimbursed expense of treating uninsured patients.
According to a May 2004 statement released by the Health Care Policy Roundtable, a cross-industry collaboration of human resources leaders, the economic impact of the lack of health insurance on productivity, absenteeism, turnover and increased health care costs could be as high as $152 billion per year, or about $1,000 for every American worker in 2004.
Plans reduce turnover
Many businesses are taking advantage of a new breed of "limited benefit" plans. In essence, employees gain access to preferred-provider networks, service discounts and other benefits, typically subject to annual benefits caps. In addition, an employer can choose any level of premium subsidy -- including none at all.
Offering benefits to employees who are typically ineligible for company-sponsored benefits can provide businesses with two advantages beyond chipping away at the problem of spiraling health care costs.
First, it helps to stabilize your work force. Offering easy-to-access health care can increase productivity because employees will be more likely to get the treatment they need and thus stay healthy.
Second, high turnover is a major issue in many industries as benefits-exempt employees float from company to company seeking a slightly higher wage. Businesses then spend excessive amounts of money and time recruiting and training replacements. These same employees, equipped with a meaningful differentiator -- access to health care benefits -- will be less likely to slip away to a competitor.
The benefit types and dollar maximums offered under these plans are flexible and may include medical, dental, vision, term life and short-term disability coverage, as well as in-hospital cash benefits. In addition, plan designs could include out-patient expenses for office visits, lab, diagnostic tests, X-rays, surgery, anesthesiology and prescription drug coverage.
If you don't offer access to health benefits for all of your employees, look at these new plans. Your insurance broker or consultant and your company's financial advisers can help you find a plan that fits your budget -- and helps you maintain a more stable and healthy part-time work force.
Paul Martino is vice president of sales and service, covering Illinois and Wisconsin. He is responsible for managing sales and client management for Aetna's middle market segment, which includes businesses with 51 to 3,000 employee lives. Reach him at (312) 928-3754 or MartinoP@aetna.com.